What is attention-seeking?

Do you know? Or do you just assume you know?

Lucy the Oracle
8 min readApr 4, 2024
Photo by Nigel Msipa on Unsplash

I mentioned this briefly in my 30 lessons article, and the topic has been living rent-free in my head since. “Flex culture” is often associated with obvious forms of showing off: designer clothing (preferably showing the name of the brand in a big bold font), exclusive destination holidays, fancy food, physical beauty (often the product of cosmetic procedures), and of course, flexing your muscles to show you’ve been working out (the origin of the term itself). The things we are said to “flex” are usually visual, shallow, and unapologetic. There’s a feeling of superiority. It probably stems from an instinct we share with other primates: beating on the chest to signal “I am the best! You shall respect me”.

The above is, of course, not to be mistaken with the instances where someone simply has a lot of money or some designer items; simply has achieved material and/or physical “success” (as our society puts it) and cannot help but admit to it — Usually accompanied by a need for privacy and a profound disinterest in posting selfies on social media too often (or ever). It tends to mean that these people feel secure — I mean, sure, they can still have insecurities, they’re human — but they feel secure enough in their ownership of the coveted thing to KNOW that they deserve it… Which is why they don’t look for likes and comments on social media to reassure them of this fact.

There are people who mistake the two (very distinct!) forms of opulence above, either because they don’t understand the difference, or because they do, but would rather pretend they don’t, since that is a very convenient cover-up for envy: “Oh, I want what this person has; But since I can’t have it, I’ll accuse them of flexing anyway”. (Well, here’s the thing, becky: you can only flex what is good and coveted. When you say someone is flexing, that means you want the same. You covet it. If you didn’t, you would pay them no mind).

Others — namely, the people who aren’t prone to envy — only come after the crowd who is truly flexing and depending on someone’s (or thousands of someones’) attention to feel validated.

ContraPoints made a very interesting video essay on this obvious, on-the-nose kind of Opulence, which you can visit above. I agree with her points, so feel free to consider the above a citation.

This article is about something else entirely: the kinds of attention-seeking we all overlook.

Humility flexing

Maybe you’ve heard people say (often in religious communities, or similar groups where “showing off” how humble you are will bring you admiration) “look how humble I am! I am so approachable and always ready to help a newbie”. (…But if you look at how they treat someone who ISN’T a newbie, it ain’t that pretty, they’re always in competition to see who answers more questions — and by extension, whose name is thrown about more often. It doesn’t sound very humble to me, to be honest).

The next example is a bit of a self-roast: teachers and other people offering spiritual guidance who go without titles or credentials (which they undoubtedly have) just to appear humble. I will admit, I do that. I’m not innocent. I’ve gotten better at letting people know what I am in general terms (an oracle) but still feel a bit iffy with revealing the specifics in public. (In my defense, though, this vagueness has given me a break from far-right idiots trying to force-associate themselves with me. Those dimwits don’t want any substance, just labels).

Instead of “humble” all the time… Try “open-minded”. Humility sort of obligates you to appear unremarkable (even when the opposite would be healthier). Open-mindedness allows more flexibility.

Empathy flexing

This one is interesting. It has bothered me for the longest time and I could never put a name to it. In fact, I think I’ve just coined it. Come on, why aren’t more people talking about it?

Classic example: “I can’t watch the news anymore because it’s just tragedy after tragedy. My heart breaks every time!” — uh… Ma’am (or sir. But usually ma’am in my experience), this is not empathising. This is attention-seeking. Stop it. Get some help.

Worse yet: this is a very classic kind of attention-seeking. You turn to someone else and confide in them about how much your pure little heart aches for the children who are dying in the Senegalese famine.

There’s no famine in Senegal.

You get the point with the hypothetical example above. I’m not necessarily accusing news reporters of lies (although this is debatable, depending on where you get your news), but the people who are really feeling for a tragedy… Are usually found helping the victims. On the front line, or donating supplies and resources from afar, or boycotting the perpetrators, etc. (There are volunteer groups helping Gaza all over the globe, for example. If you care, why not join one). In short: when you truly care, you get down to business. You don’t just namedrop some random event you’ve heard about and wait for the pats on the back and the “awwww, you’re so pure” comments to come your way.

In before someone comments “but I have empathy distress, Lucy!” — Then go pray. In silence. Praying and wishing for victims of a tragedy to find relief doesn’t force you to deal with any graphic scenes. And you know what else it doesn’t force you to do? FLEX.

So, I’m sorry in advance to the susans who paint one fingernail white for world peace, or the kevins who post selfies tagged “I stand with [insert trendnig topic here]” from their middle-class suburban apartment on Instagram. I’m not buying it. Wanna flex your empathy? Do. Just don’t expect me to applaud it.

Agreeableness flexing

Usually, you’ll see someone flexing their agreeableness during an argument. I’ve seen this phenomenon described as “toxic chill person” on social media and had a good chuckle at this term. Indeed, it fits the vibe: someone is being toxic, but somehow wants to make it seem like you are the toxic one. “Whoa, why so reactive? Just chill”. Sounds wholesome? Yeah, maybe it does… Until you realise the context: they confronted you and you responded accordingly.

People flex their agreeableness for a variety of reasons I’m sure, but the patterns I usually see are: 1) Because they ran out of arguments and you are “winning”; 2) When they don’t respect you and want to somehow inferiorise you for simply having stood up for yourself, and 3) If the subject being discussed directly implies invalidating your existence or dignity, but the other person has privilege so they can afford to stay “above” it and “rational, calm, and collected”.

If you’re thinking of flexing your agreeableness on someone, but you genuinely don’t want to be a dick, maybe try getting curious instead of accusing the person of an “overreaction”. What looks like an overreaction to you might just be the most reasonable way they found to deal with the situation. So if you’re truly puzzled, and TRULY wish you could discuss the topic more peacefully, ask how they are feeling and if they’d like some time alone to think more about it. See how respectful that sounds? Because it IS respectful.

Agreeableness flexing is just a byproduct of arrogance. It’s not a good look.

Knowledge flexing

This is probably the most common underrated kind of flexing: the one where you know more than someone else and fully intend on asserting your dominance that way.

I’m sure you’ve had a teacher at some point who acted insufferable and just wanted to inferiorise you for being on the receiving end of their knowledge (go figure. But it’s common). But Academic context aside, knowledge flexing also happens in social settings, even among drunk people in a pub quiz who in fact don’t know all that much but pretend to be knowledgeable just for the attention.

Yes, this is attention-seeking.

If you suffer from knowledge flexing, try wisdom instead of knowledge. The pursuit of wisdom leads to nobler ways of relating because it carries with itself the implication that just because you know a thing, it doesn’t mean you should always show it off.

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

In conclusion: flexing hides an insecurity.

If you go on and on and on and on about something… Chances are you don’t feel like you truly deserve it. Why else would you look for people’s nods and hints of approval? When you’re secure in what you have, you don’t feel a need to defend it so fiercely because YOU KNOW that it’s yours by right and nobody can take it away from you.

It’s not necessarily “bad” or “evil” to feel insecure or like you need external validation. We all have those areas, don’t we? Mine is, for example, cooking. I always wait for people’s reaction when they try my food because, quite frankly, I’m not very gifted in the kitchen. I know a few dishes learned in dreams and visions of mine (or more conventionally, from cookbooks), but I tend to half-arse them. And don’t even get me started on the stuff I improvise (and comes out looking like dog food). The thing is… I’m not interested in becoming a chef anytime soon. No, thanks. If it was a real ambition, I’m sure I could learn to cook well eventually. But do I delude myself? Do I go around thinking to myself, “you know what? I am awesome in the kitchen and I won’t let anyone say otherwise. I’ll gaslight and deflect their valid doubts and/or criticism any day”? No. Why would I?

There are areas of my life, however, where I had this bad habit, because I was still a beginner and felt insecure and didn’t want anyone to find it out just in case they might mock me or discourage me from the pursuit. Divination was one of those things, believe it or not. With time, I’ve come to learn that it’s perfectly okay if someone brings me information I don’t already have “in my areas of specialty”, even if it’s a regular person. Truly, it’s okay. I’ve made casual friends that way, people who keep using my services even though they once brought me information that was new to me.

The same is true for empathy — if you’re feeling a bit too selfish or privileged, why try to appear like the complete opposite of that? What will that fake facade achieve? Try and join a volunteer group maybe, host a refugee, adopt a stray animal… I don’t know. There are a number of ways to address this need you’re feeling without just sweeping the truth under the rug.

The same is valid for agreeableness (Wanna fight? Then fight. Everyone fights, even saints, there’s no guilt. Don’t wanna fight? Excuse yourself and say you really weren’t expecting an argument. It ain’t rocket science), or humility (when you’re truly humble, people don’t need to KNOW you’re humble).

It isn’t other people who expect us to “know it all and be in control of it all”. It’s ourselves. We have this knee-jerk reaction of wanting to prove to ourselves that we truly deserve the thing we aren’t fully sure about, via gathering external support. Honestly? That’s valid, but short-lived. Let’s maybe get honest, meditate some more, study some more, practice some more… Whatever it is you need. There’s time. There’s no panic. And in the end, one never stops improving what they already do anyway.



Lucy the Oracle

Oracle learner / spirit worker based in Ireland. Buddhist/polytheist. I don't read minds. I don't change minds. I don't sugarcoat. Take my message or leave it.